by Zahra Barnes
“I’ll let you know I’ve landed as soon as I can.” Grant shrugged on his leather jacket and looked at me, still naked in his bed. “Feel free to stay as long as you want.” It was early in the morning on the day he was leaving for Abu Dhabi, and it all felt like some kind of fever dream.
I yanked the comforter up over my head. The temptation to burrow down into the plush bedding and pretend this wasn’t happening was just too easy.
“I can’t leave if I don’t kiss you goodbye and I can’t kiss you goodbye if you’re under there!”
I shook my head so hard the bed creaked in its frame. Grant’s weight settled next to me and I peeked out from underneath the comforter. He brushed a curl away from my face.
“Three weeks will fly by. And who knows, they might not even want me to stay.”
“You’re brilliant, so of course they’ll want you to! And I want them to want you to! I’ll just miss you. Only a little bit, if you couldn’t tell from my totally rational reaction.”
He kissed me long and hard. “I love you, even though you’re a goof.”
“I know. And okay, you really do have to go if you don’t want to miss your flight.” I hauled myself out of bed to walk him out. He gathered up his luggage and I led him down the hallway and into the living room.
“I’m really going to miss that view,” he said wistfully as I reached the door.
“Don’t I know it.” I turned and grinned at him, determined to see him off in a good mood. “I’m going to miss you, too.” There was one last kiss, and just like that, he was gone.
Since I didn’t have to go to Grey & Boehm for another few hours, I promptly took myself back to bed and relived the week we’d just spent together.
We’d made it our mission to pack that time with as much as we could. We’d gone to two book readings, eaten way too much Thai takeout, and roamed countless city blocks. We’d watched scary movies and gorged on candy on Halloween. We’d fucked and we’d, as much as the phrase grossed me out, made love. We’d sipped wine in bed and murmured beautiful things like, “I swear, I see the stars in your eyes.” What’s more, we’d meant them.
All things considered, I felt pretty good about our goodbye, if a little raw. I just hoped that he wouldn’t pull a Tessa pulling a Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids and almost pass out from flight nerves. If I were in his place on an almost 14-hour plane ride, I’d have to be sedated. But he never worried that something might happen, thanks to that signature steady sureness that made it so easy for him to move through life. As I drifted off to sleep, I imagined where he’d be soon: soaring through the clouds, getting farther away from me with each passing second.
I woke up with a jolt, startled out of my sleep by my phone alarm. I swatted at it, hoping to magically hit the snooze on the first try. Instead, I sent it skittering off the edge of the bed and into the corner, where it continued to beep and whine incessantly. I groaned, taking the chain of events as a sign that I had no choice but to get out of bed and go to work.
When I got to Grey & Boehm, Liv and Marian were huddled around Liv’s monitor. Between the sisters’ performance in a few weeks and our quickly approaching move, we’d been like very efficient robots: no emotion, no niceties, all action. We exchanged quick hellos and I settled in to finalize all the moving parts that needed to come together for an event to go smoothly. As always, work was a welcome distraction from what was going on in my personal life.
Seven hours later, Marian swanned out to attend a dinner event. “I’m not sure why people keep insisting upon having these dinners. Such an ostentatious waste of food,” she said as she left. Considering that anything more than kale was forbidden from passing her lips, I agreed that the delicious food was wasted on her. Liv and I tapped away on our keyboards in relative silence for another hour and a half until she shoved herself back from her desk. “Okay, we’re done! Let’s go.”
Confused, I slowed my typing but didn’t stop. “What? Go where? I still have stuff to do.”
She shook her head emphatically. “Nope. Come on. Marian’s gone, and I gave you enough time to get some other things off your plate. Now we have to go, or we’ll be late.”
“Did we have plans I somehow forgot?”
“Well, we have plans, but you couldn’t exactly forget them because you didn’t know about them. Seriously, come on! You can just get in early tomorrow and do anything you have left.” She slid into her olive green coat, which played up the forest-y flecks in her eyes.
“But what are we doing?”
“Is it enough if I promise you’ll love it and I’m not kidnapping you? I wouldn’t even have a good alibi, and you know I’m smarter than that.”
I glanced at my computer screen. She was right; everything I was planning on doing that night could wait. Plus, I was intrigued.
Liv hailed a cab and spouted off some cross streets to the driver. They sounded at once familiar and alien coming out of her mouth.
“Wait, are we going to Marley’s apartment?”
“Shh. No questions. So, what did you do for Halloween?”
I filled her in on the horror movie marathon Grant and I had enjoyed. He’d dressed up as a homicidal lumberjack, clad in flannel and complete with a bloody fake axe. I’d sported cat ears and a sweatshirt that said “Don’t tell me to smile” in a last-minute imitation of Grumpy Cat. Liv told me all about how she and her roommates had gone as the group in Mean Girls, with Liv donning a blond wig to star as the frankly iconic Regina George.
We pulled up to Marley’s place and I tried to chip in to pay the fare. Liv pushed my card away. “I’ve got this.”
“At least let me Venmo you?”
“Nope. I told you, I’ve got it!” She hurried me out of the cab. “Let’s get upstairs. First, put this on.” She held up a black blindfold.
“You can’t be serious.”
“As a heart attack,” she deadpanned. She spun me around and tied the blindfold securely over my eyes.
“You know it’s not my birthday, right?” A thrill ran through me despite my faux protests.
“Just hold my hand and follow me upstairs in a second.” There were a few moments of silence, then I heard her say, “We’re here.”
The buzzer sounded and Liv’s hand enveloped my own. With a slight tug, she pulled me into the warmth of Marley’s building. It took much longer than usual to get to Marley’s door. I was being cautious with each step, since I couldn’t stop envisioning my obituary starting with, “It was supposed to be a delightful surprise, but the combination of a blindfold and staircase would only end in tragedy.” Finally, we stopped and Liv rapped her knuckles against Marley’s door in three sharp knocks.
I heard a whoosh as it opened and was smacked in the face with the most mouthwatering scent. I had no idea what it was, but it was undoubtedly divine. I swayed for a second, realizing the sparse lunch I’d had while in my work zone had been woefully inadequate. Someone’s fingers went to work at the knot of fabric against my skull, and the blindfold drooped to my neck. I tried to take in the sight in front of me, but I was truly speechless.
Liv and Celine beamed at me from different spots in the apartment, and I knew only Marley could produce the amazing smell that was wafting past me. Celine was standing next to a table that housed the makings of various cocktails. There were also Pinterest-y hors d’oeuvres and jars full of what I could already tell were my favorite candies, like the sour patch watermelons I liked to chase with jellybeans. Liv led me through the living room into the kitchen, where Marley was at the stove stirring the source of that delicious scent. Whatever it was bubbled so energetically, it was almost as if it were just as excited as I was quickly becoming. Liv took me back into the living room and, swear to God, stood next to a cardboard cutout of none other than Ryan Gosling.
“You guys. What is this?!”
“Marley knew Grant was leaving today, so she wanted to cheer you up!” said Liv.
“Yeah, because I know if we didn’t, you’d end up drowning your sorrows in pint after pint of gelato.”
“She recruited us to plan a going away party, except instead of being for Grant, it’s for you!” Celine was bouncing up and down, popping jellybeans into her mouth.
“Amy couldn’t make it but says she wishes she could be here,” Marley said. That was fine. These three were all I needed in the moment. I’d never realized friends actually did things like this for each other. What kind of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants magic was this? I took deep breaths so I wouldn’t tear up and make an ass of myself.
“You guys are amazing! I don’t even know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything, just get in here! We have an outfit for you,” Liv said. They were all dressed up in dinner party dresses and warm socks.
“Did you buy me clothes?!”
“Babe, this isn’t The Devil Wears Prada,” Marley said. “You’re borrowing something from my closet.”
“Okay, fine. It’s a close second.”
After shimmying into a Marley-approved white sweater dress and thick socks, I padded into the living room and made a beeline for the stove, completely ravenous.
“Okay, what’s for dinner?”
“Stew. You know how I get when the weather gets cold.” As soon as the temperature dipped, Marley got into a soup frenzy until the frost started to disappear. “But there’s an order to these things!” She steered me towards the table with drinks. “First, libations and small bites.”
Celine gestured at the spread. “What would you like, mademoiselle?”
“Um, surprise me?” She got to work mixing a drink and fixing a plate. I drifted over to the cardboard cutout of my celebrity husband. “Is anyone going to explain this? If I’d known Ryan were joining us, I’d have put in a little more effort.”
“Ryan’s graced us with his presence to remind you that yes, Grant is totally great, but other guys are out there,” Marley said. I cocked an eyebrow at her. She knew full well that Grant and I were going to give things a try while he was in Abu Dhabi. Plus, like it was totally plausible that I could get Gosling-caliber men. Right. She swooped in with a save. “But really, it’s more just to have something nice to look at! I figured you’d be down and I know those baby blues always make you happy.”
I conceded her point. Celine came over with my drink and I took a sip. It was so strong, I almost choked.
“Too much?” she asked. I nodded, eyes watering. She added a few more splashes of tonic water and returned with a full plate for me. Much better. After some time grazing so much we almost, but not quite, spoiled our appetites, Marley announced that dinner was ready.
When we sat, I took a second to bask in the glow of it all. Something swelled inside me as I remembered the scene that had always gotten me most in the Sex and the City movie. It was right at the end when the camera panned out on the four women laughing, so obviously in love with each other in a way no man could ever match, while Jennifer Hudson’s “All Dressed in Love” played in the background. Then you saw other foursomes dotting the screen throughout the city. It was the cheesiest ode to female friendship, but I couldn’t help that it always made me teary. And now, here were some amazing women creating the same thing for me. And even better, it hadn’t just been some seed of a great idea that fell apart because of 20-somethings’ characteristic flakiness. They’d made it happen.
Celine turned up the playlist and refreshed our drinks before we tucked into our stew. I sipped mine. Insanely strong again. I got up to weaken it and something occurred to me. “How did you guys even coordinate this? I don’t think all three of you have ever been in a room at the same time.”
“That’s the beauty of the internet!” Marley said. “I just messaged them on Facebook.”
“And it’s so perfect that we work together, so I could just whisk you away,” finished Liv.
“You’re truly the best. Seriously. I feel so much better already.”
“So, has it been hard? Are you feeling very Drake about it?” Celine had seen some memes online about how Drake was always upset about his romantic life, so now she called being sad about men “feeling Drake.”
“Well, he just left this morning. It’s only three weeks as of now, so it’s more the uncertainty thing that’s getting me. I keep wondering if we should we have just broken up. What if they drag out the decision, so instead of being like,’Stay for a year’ right at the start, they just add on a month each time he thinks he’s going to come home? All these scenarios are running through my head. I’m just going to stay busy, and reevaluate in three weeks. It’ll suck if we have to break up, but I was pretty okay when it happened before. After a mourning period, anyway.”
“But you’re so happy with him in a way that’s hard to find anywhere else! I think it’s probably worth waiting it out even if it is a year,” Celine said.
That surprised me a bit. She’d seemed impartial about the Grant thing when we’d talked about it. Maybe she had just been keeping her real opinion to herself.
“A year? That’s a little generous,” Marley said. Or scoffed, rather. “Grant’s a great guy but maybe him going off to Abu Dhabi means the timing is just off for them.”
Celine tipped her head back, a martini glass at her lips. “Yes, but it could also just mean they need to do more to make it work. Who are we to say it isn’t worth it?” She shrugged and continued. “Love is very different for the people who are experiencing it.”
“Of course it is! But how do secrets factor into love?”
This was getting too weird. Beyond them talking about my relationship like I wasn’t there, I didn’t exactly appreciate that it seemed like we were about to get into touchy territory. “Guys, isn’t the point of this to not really focus on Grant? Let’s just talk about something else, like how Ryan should have had that baby with me instead of Eva.”
Liv was the only one who even looked at me to acknowledge that I’d spoken. Marley just narrowed her eyes at Celine, who stared back unabashedly.
“Every person in a couple is entitled to secrets,” Celine said as though I’d never interjected.
“So, by your logic, Tessa should stay with a guy who cheated on her because secrets are normal in a relationship?”
“By my logic, Tessa should stay with someone who makes her happy more than he makes her sad, yes,” Celine fired back.
“Stop it, you two! Seriously, it doesn’t matter. No more Grant talk tonight, I’m begging you.”
“Yeah, you guys need to shelve it,” Liv said. I shot her a grateful look.
“Okay, okay. I just thought I could offer some insight because I live with Tessa, so maybe there are things I realize about her that you do not. It’s no big deal,” said Celine. She smiled at Marley innocently.
For a minute, Marley just avoided looking at any of us and we pushed our food around in silence.
“So, has Tessa told you guys about the weird triplet exhibit we’re doing?” Liv was trying valiantly to remedy the weird mood, but Marley destroyed her attempt by marching off to the kitchen. “I’ll get more stew,” she said over her shoulder. I got up and followed.
“Marley! What the hell?” I hissed in a whisper. How had that escalated so quickly?
She pinched the bridge of her nose. “I’m sorry. I know that was so immature. She just drives me so crazy!”
“What? Celine? Why?”
“She acts like she knows you so well, but she just met you! You should have heard her after your housewarming party when you and Finn went for a walk.” This was news to me. Marley and Celine had both said everything went fine.
“What do you mean?”
“She just acts like she knows absolutely everything about you. It’s honestly a little creepy and it just weirds me out.” Celine had certainly thrown me off before, but I’d never seen her act the way Marley was talking about.
“Mar, she’s not creepy! She probably just thinks that as my roommate, she knows me on that level. Plus, you know, she sees me and Grant together a lot.”
“It would be fine if it were normal, but the way she talks about it gives me Single White Female vibes.”
“Well, I’m mixed, so that can’t be it.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m serious, Tessa. I didn’t want to say anything because she’s your roommate, but she’s just weird. I can’t put my finger on it. When she came here to help set up, she found a way to backhandedly insult pretty much everything about me and my apartment, but she stopped the second you got here.”
I stood in silence. Years ago, Marley and I had gone through a few tense weeks because she, as she later admitted, was upset that I was hanging out with Finn and Amy so much. She acknowledged that it was juvenile, but she felt totally left out. Was that dynamic rearing its ugly head again? “Listen, I know Celine can be a bit much if you’re not used to her. But she’s been great to me throughout this whole thing, so can we just try to have a good night?”
Marley swallowed her protests and followed me back to the table, bearing a fresh bowl of stew like a gift. And even though for the rest of the night, we pretended everything was fine, we all knew that some of the magic was gone.